In a dramatic setback, three opposition parties that struck a power-sharing deal in Vanadzor on Monday failed to appoint the new mayor of Armenia’s third-largest city, despite winning a majority of seats in the local council earlier this month.
Most members of the 33-seat council voted instead for the mayoral candidate of the ruling Republican Party (HHK), Mamikon Aslanian, sparking allegations that the Armenian authorities bullied some opposition councilors into breaking the ranks.
The HHK and its junior coalition partner, the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun), won 13 and 2 council seats respectively in a municipal election held in Vanadzor on October 2. The 18 other seats went to the opposition Bright Armenia, Prosperous Armenia (BHK) and Armenian Revival parties, putting them in a position to pick Vanadzor’s next mayor.
The three parties signed a post-election deal on Saturday, pledging to support Bright Armenia’s mayoral candidate, Krist Marukian. His party controls 10 seats in the Vanadzor legislature.
Marukian’s victory seemed a forgone conclusion until the council met on Monday to elect the mayor in secret ballot. In the event, the HHK’s Aslanian defeated him by 19 votes to 14, suggesting that 4 opposition councilors secretly switched their allegiances. It was not immediately clear who they are.
The vote was nearly disrupted by an hour-long bitter altercation between pro-government and opposition figures. The latter vehemently protested against the secret ballot, demanding that all councilors vote openly.
Edmon Marukian, Bright Armenia’s leader and Krist’s brother, charged afterwards that the election was the result of a “crime” committed by the authorities. He demanded that law-enforcement bodies identify the opposition councilors who sided with the ruling and determine why they did so.
Marukian suggested that they were blackmailed or pressurized otherwise into withdrawing support from the Bright Armenia candidate. He said that government “pressure” on opposition councilors increased sharply after the three-party deal agreed over the weekend.
“This is the real face of these authorities,” Marukian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am).
The Vanadzor-based opposition leader, who is a member of the Armenian parliament, also claimed that the secret ballot was aimed saving the defectors from public embarrassment. He said Bright Armenia will try to expose them, including through a possible opposition boycott of council sessions.
The was no immediate official reaction to the dramatic development from the BHK and Armenian Revival. Both parties used to be part of President Serzh Sarkisian’s governing coalitions.